How to sniff out a fake degree

In the United States, Laura Callahan worked her way up to deputy chief information officer of Homeland Security before she was exposed as a serial fake-degree shopper in June 2003.

Such high-profile cases of degree fraud have served to warn employers of the need to update the way they authenticate the qualifications of potential employees - and check on those already employed.

Here are the tell-tale signs of degree fraud:


  • The degree itself: Check the degree for spelling and grammatical errors. The seal should be embossed and not simply printed on.

  • Speedy degrees: A degree earned in a very short time, or several degrees earned in the same year should be a big warning sign.

  • Out-of-order qualifications: The traditional sequence should be a diploma or an A-level certificate, followed by a bachelor's degree, then a master's and so on. Be suspicious if the sequence is different or some qualifications are missing in-between.

  • Spin-off names: Degree mills usually have names that look or sound like the real universities, such as Hamilton University, which is a spin-off of the prestigious Hamilton College.

Once you have identified a possible suspect of degree fraud, conduct a check on the university. If it is a renowned university, call the institution to check the enrolment of the person.

If the university is not a familiar one, look it up on the Internet to check its accreditation by an official agency. Better yet, call the relevant education information centres to check the status of the university. (See Is The University Bogus?)

What can an employer do if he discovers an employee to be a degree con?

Depending on the person's job, a police report might be necessary, according to criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan.

'Clients of the company might have been deceived into doing something they otherwise would not have as a result of the employee's misrepresentation of his qualification,' he said.

Fake degree users face a maximum jail term of seven years or a fine, or both, if found guilty of cheating.

- Report and illustration by Lim Yee Hung
Is the university bogus?

Depending on the country in which the university is based, these are some of the key accreditation agencies:

  • Singapore: Ministry of Education. Call 6872-1110
  • Britain: British Council. Call 6473-1111
  • United States: United States Education Information Center. Call 6223-4566
  • Australia: Australian Qualifications Framework: (03) 9639-1606

January 22, 2007